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And the best free audio DAW for Windows is… Linux MultiMedia Studio?!?!? January 9, 2009

Posted by oktyabr in cross platform, make music, screenshots, software.

YES!  That is right!  Linux MultiMedia Studio, or “LMMS” as it’s more often called, now has a very nice Windows port! 120px-Lmms_logo.png

Quoting from their website LMMS aims to be “
a free cross-platform alternative to commercial programs like FL Studio®, which allow you to produce music with your computer.”  And FL-studio users will feel right at home with LMMS and with no sting in the pocketbook either…

It’s easy for me to assume that someone reading this already has an interest in making music on a computer and probably some experience dealing with compositional software but I’ll touch the basics here for those of you that might be new to the “hobby”.

Digital Audio Workstations, better known as “DAWs” in the appropriate circles, is software that once installed on your computer allows you to create a musical composition that when done can be transformed into a .WAV file for burning to a CD or any number of other music formats like .wma or the ever imbiguous .mp3 files.  The term “DAW” is loosely applied to many different software titles with varying levels of capabilities and features.  In general a “DAW” should be able to take your creation from start to finish without the use of any other software.  You can kind of think of a DAW as a swiss army knife for audio.

A key feature in most DAWs is “sequencing” or the arrangement of clips of sound and/or MIDI tracks to produce a song.  This used to be (and still is, to some degree) a territory ruled by dedicated audio and MIDI sequencers but most modern DAWs these days sequence at least audio quite well.  LMMS and FLstudio, the software it aims to emulate, are both excellent sequencers for audio and MIDI use and both are “pattern based” sequencers following in the footsteps of the first “tracker” sequencers like ImpulseTracker and FastTracker.

Song composition in both of these softwares is done by first arranging notes set to a given tempo in modular fashion by clicking beats on or off with your mouse in a “beat+bassline editor” (as it’s called in LMMS), similar to most pattern based drum machines.  You can add additional tracks to this editor and each track might be a different drum sound for example.  A second instance of this editor, also referred to as “editor module” for this article, might contain lyrics or the instruments producing melody and so on.  These editor modules are then arranged in a master “Song editor” in a similar fashion.  When the “song” is played a single block on the song editor triggers the sounds (or pattern of sounds) in the respective editor module.

One of this method of song creation’s biggest strengths is that once you have completed several editor modules you can arrange them and reuse them any way you like in your overall song.   It is also very easy to rearrange a “song” without having to recreate your beats and basslines from scratch too.  I think a good analogy might be thinking of the individual sounds as letters, the editor modules as words made of those letters and the song perhaps as a whole sentence or paragraph.

In regards to MIDI this style of sequencing is also very powerful in that you can try different instruments with the same arrangement of MIDI codes and then shuffle them around in your “song” with ease.  Of course both LMMS and FLstudio are very capable MIDI sequencers… both have “piano roll editors” with similar editing abilities and tools, both work well with real MIDI keyboards plugged into your computer, both can import entire .mid tracks!


A screenshot of the popular Crystal VSTi synth running in LMMS.

One of the most powerful and valuable features of a DAW like these is the ability to import and host VSTi, or “Virtual Studio Technology instruments” into your composition.  VSTi are exactly what the ancronym might imply… a single VSTi might be designed to emulate a plucked string instrument, another a grand piano and so on.  These are self contained virtual instruments that only need a software, in this case a DAW, to host them and send them signals to trigger individual notes.  Until recently most Windows users were pretty much consigned to spending money to get a DAW with VSTi hosting abilities.  The linux side of the tunnel was even dimmer with sketchy VSTi support having to be compiled in a custom build due to iffy restrictions on the use of sourcecode.  This most recent build of LMMS, v4.2.0, provides true VSTi support for BOTH it’s Windows and linux versions through the use of LMMS’s very own “VeSTige” VSTi plugin handler and it seems to work very, very well!

Of course both of these DAWs have many other features too including FX and filters that can be chained together, automation of controls (FLstudioś automation is still far more advanced), a series of samples and plugin instruments right “out of the box”, and both feature fairly modern and attractive looking user interfaces.

One thing still missing from LMMS and present in FLstudio is the ability to record sound directly into the software, such as from an electric guitar, standalone hardware synth module or microphone.  FLstudio, it should be noted, actually includes many different tools that are missing from LMMS but let’s remember that FLstudio includes them because they can charge you money for the software and thus want you buying and using their software, their tools!  The LMMS project, on the other hand, is free software in both senses of the word and thus the developers don’t feel compelled to reinvent the wheel, at least it’s not a priority…  why spend the time and programming resources to incorporate wav recording and editing into the program when very nice standalone softwares like Audacity already exist?  It is easy to record your audio into Audacity, edit it to your heart’s content and then import it into LMMS, and only requires a two or three more mouse clicks that using the similar features found in FLstudio.

All in all LMMS is growing rapidly into a solid alternative to FLstudio and other software like it and is already quite capable, if not entirely crash-free (save often, no matter what software you use!)   As far as *free* DAWs go in Windows I can’t even think of a comparible competitor to LMMS, much less a superior project.   The linux side of things is a bit different but even there LMMS pulls a good lead with it’s solid, native VSTi support.  If you have been looking at FLstudio and the like with interest I highly encourage you to give LMMS a try before breaking out the pocket book.

The LMMS homepage has a bit of useful documentation to help get you going and even Youtube has more than a few useful tutorials on using the software but probably the best way is to just fire it up, load an example song and play with it a bit.  Enjoy!

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1. My D-Link wireless card, Madwifi and the state of linux distros for the desktop « Oktyabr’s Notepad - January 10, 2009

[…] all started when I had to backtrack and check some facts before publishing my last article, The Best free DAW for Windows is… In the article I posted that the new version of LMMS for Windows had native VSTi support (which it […]

2. oktyabr - January 10, 2009

Footnote: I finally found pre-compiled .debs for LMMS 0.4.2 for the Ubuntu family at http://philip.magicalforest.se/ and they work like a charm!

Thanks Philip!

3. N-ohm - July 17, 2009

In reality, that is just a bad clone of the best DAW of all time FLStudio!!!! anyway you should all check the free demo http://flstudio.image-line.com/documents/download.html the demo allows you to make full songs and save them as high quality wav files, mp3 files and ogg vorbis files. the only limitation is the ability to save your project. Anyways with the rendering enabled it is entirely possible to create pro tracks with just the demo. If anyone wants to buy the real version, it is cheap as chips and i can give you 10% discount

4. N-ohm - July 17, 2009

to get the discount hover over my name and click the url

5. zencon - September 1, 2009

Gee, you wouldn’t be SELLING the FLStudio, would you???

Review Fail

Sales Fail

oktyabr - January 29, 2011

That’s not my link, in case anyone wonders. I’m not even an image line affiliate.

N-ohm’s link does seem to be genuine and might be able to save someone a little money if they use it to buy image lines products (including FLstudio) so I didn’t delete it.

6. oktyabr - September 1, 2009

I actually bought FLstudio (Producer edition) years ago… the free upgrade program made it quite enticing, but I’ve always had a passion for software that could do more for less and free is even better. LMMS is no where near as capable as a full FL suite BUT it’s users can and do produce all kinds of music with it none the less. Cross platform capability (since I use all three, win, mac and nix) is a very big win for LMMS (IMHO) and the key reason why I have never gotten serious about learning or using FLstudio over all the years I’ve had it.

7. Joe Schmoe - December 20, 2009

Yeah i use the producer edition with upgrade as well i use it all the time

thanks for the post

8. Jason - June 24, 2010

Finding relevant sites on this topic is sometimes hard to find. You did an excellent job covering the subject and I look forward to more posts from your site. Do you offer RSS Feeds or feedburner to get more content for our blogs?

9. tara - June 24, 2010

Finding relevant sites on this topic is sometimes hard to find. You did an excellent job covering the subject and I look forward to more posts from your site. Do you offer RSS Feeds or feedburner to get more content for our blogs?

10. oktyabr - July 2, 2010

Thanks for the reply. You can find RSS links at the bottom of the right hand column.

11. Jason - July 17, 2010

This is a really great website. The layout and design is very easy to navigate and the info is superb. Keep up the good work!!!!

12. PatrickM - December 29, 2010

FL studio is the best IMO!

13. Mr. Feature - January 29, 2011

FL Studio Is The Absolute Way To Go If You Are Serious About Making Music With A Computer.. LMMS Is Garbage.. Linux Is Great If You Are A Super Geeky Nerd, Or All You Want To Do Is Surf The Internet And Get Free Programs That Are Cheap And Poorly Written Knock Offs Of Good Programs Like FL Studio.. Even Linux Graphic Editing Software Like The Gimp Is Nowhere Near The Quality Of Photoshop.. Basically The Only Real Advantage To Using Linux Is That The Majority Of Malware And Viruses Are Written To Attack Windows.. That’s Because More People Use Windows Because Windows Programs Are Superior To These Cheap And Worthless Freeware Linux Programs

oktyabr - January 29, 2011


Usually I just delete posts that are such obvious attempts at trolling for a response, especially when they are so far removed from the context of the article (the key word is “FREE”) at hand but…

Both FLstudio and LMMS are good softwares and I never intended to make my review come off sounding like a “vs” article. FLstudio has far more toys to play with and that really nice candy coated GUI that every “serious” windows sound app seems to need to be successful… it also costs a good deal of money (unless you “warez” it). It’s fun to play with!

But it’s also over stuffed with extras and I spend more time “playing” with it than I do actually making music. Sometimes simple is better and that’s where LMMS seems to find it’s linux inspired strength. It does what it needs to do and not a whole lot more.

Last but not least there has been a 64 bit version of LMMS available for windows for quite some time… Turn the calender pages ahead yet to see a 64bit version of FLstudio… 2012, maybe?

14. Diego (Dj Dihengo) - January 29, 2011

Really, LMMS is a nice DAW, f you know how to use it, you get songs with same quality of any other DAW, like GIMP can produce good results as good as photoshop. I use GIMP at work, and it has professional results, and I use LMMS at home and has too professional sounds!!

ok, it has not all flstudio options, but it is NOT fl studio!

15. wixle - February 2, 2011

Are you serious? A DAW that can’t record audio isn’t a DAW.

I haven’t tried recording audio separately and then importing it into another program, but it seems like there would be endless sync issues with midi tracks and other audio tracks.

Honestly, I can’t believe anyone would write a digital audio workstation that can’t record audio. That’s like designing a great car with no wheels. I’m really scratching my head over that one.

oktyabr - February 2, 2011

I never said it could record audio and no where in the definition of a “Digital Audio Workstation” does it say that the appliance (or software) must have recording features self contained. As for MIDI, LMMS deals with mouse, keyboard and MIDI controllers just fine… it can even import FLstudio files!

In the linux world software is generally designed with a much more modular approach and even the port of LMMS to windows is not an exception. While other DAWs do record audio (and I’m sure LMMS for Windows will too soon) it’s typical to link useful apps together the way YOU want to, freeing up the software developers to develop just the part they want to work with and at the same time leaving the end user with the freedom to use any component they choose. That’s like designing a great car and letting YOU choose the wheels and tires.

Sync issues are easy to overcome as long as timing is correct. Even self contained recording interfaces suffer from sync issues due to hardware and OS latencies so this is nothing new.

While LMMS may not be the perfect example of “the linux way of doing things” it IS free and they did bother to take the time to make it that way for windows users too. Name another windows app that can do what it does for free (no trials, shareware or warez, thanks).

Under linux my choice of DAWs would be Ardour for recording and sequencing, JAMin for mastering, JACK for wiring it all together and of course an audio optimized real time kernel, something no windows user will ever get I’m afraid.

16. Soundproofing - April 24, 2011

Appreciate this. Installed linux about a week ago, been looking at recording and audio in it ever since.

17. Damian Bamforth - July 27, 2011

Hi, thanks for the article.

“Under linux my choice of DAWs would be Ardour for recording and sequencing, JAMin for mastering, JACK for wiring it all together and of course an audio optimized real time kernel”

Could you provide a step-by-step to do this? I have played with windows-based apps to write music in the past, and I would really like to get into doing it all on a laptop with linux on (I have been using ubuntu for the last couple of years, and have played with redhat systems too). However, I really have no idea where to start when thinking of doing this in linux. A friend demo’d Sonar producer a couple of weeks ago, and I was really thinking of going for that – whilst it does cost money, the thing that really puts me off is that it only runs on windows. I like the idea of being able to optimise a kernal for use as a DAW.

I have used a windows laptop* to run ableton live, but there are serious lag issues… trying to configure windows to be ‘stream-lined’ and ‘optimised’ seems to be contradiction of terms.

*(Dell 1720, Intel Pentium Dual Core T2390 / 1.86 GHz, 3GB ram, vista and win 7).

The solution suggested by sales reps is always New Laptop, Faster Chip, More RAM. I am now thinking of buying a dell 301z at £450, which will have 4GB memory, and AMD Turion II Neo K625. However, no matter what I buy on a modest budget never seems to be enough, especially after windows is factored in.

So, what do you suggest? Can I have a good DAW which will enable me to record and write music on the kind of platforms mentioned above (i.e the inspiron, or 301z)? I would like easy music notation editing (as found in noteworthy composer) combined with voice and keyboard (midi) recording, and multiple tracks and looping (as found in ableton). I have purchased garritan personal orchestra, and would like to plug the sounds from that in too. If I could do this in Linux, with an optimised kernal, preferably using ubuntu, that would be fantastic.

Perhaps my comment is going off topic, but you really seem to know your stuff in this arena, and so I would really appreciate your insight.


oktyabr - August 6, 2011

Hi Damian, and I apologize for taking so long to respond!

My “real work” is seasonal and this is a very busy time for me, away from the computer.

Windows is intended to work on a very broad selection of possible hardware combinations. It’s what keeps them in the game and why it’s the world’s most popular operating system. This “one size fits all” does not correspond very well to highly specialized applications such as real time media handling and closed source means “optimization” is truly impossible, which is why I use linux for such things. Optimizing a linux system boils down to really two things… First, custom configuring it for your *specific* hardware. If you don’t need support for a dial up modem, for instance, then why insist that the operating system loads support for it? Same with touch pads (oops! You might want that on a laptop), etc. It’s basically shaving off all the extras that you simply don’t need. Secondly is tweaking a few config settings to provide the lowest latency possible *without overruns* for your specific hardware. Your sound and midi I/O is probably more important than how much RAM you have or how many processor cores and while it IS possible to achieve reasonable performance with many budget sound cards and integrated chips, if real I/O low latency is what you are after you may need to consider either building a computer around such a goal or at least investing in a very good sound card. I personally run an older M-Audio Delta 44 (PCI) in a desktop. While I’m sure there are USB and firewire interfaces suitable for laptop use I don’t have any first hand experience with such and can’t make any specific recommendations.

It’s also important to consider exactly what you need from your DAW. If all you plan to do is record and *then* mix the tracks together at a later time “low latency” might not really be all that critical. Where a low latency kernel (and audio I/O) becomes quite useful is when you are attempting to record one track over others… to “play along with yourself”. The more individual tracks a DAW has to play back *as you record a new one* adds more load to the system and latency becomes more and more of a problem. Throw MIDI into the mix (which of course has a time signature) and getting raw audio tracks to record in sync can become a handful. To get what is being recorded synced as perfectly as possible with what you already recorded, and presumably being played back WHILE you record is where a low latency audio platform really becomes a necessity. It’s so important that most desktop DAW software and techniques are designed around the concept of recording all your material (or using someone else’s samples) one track at a time and then syncing them in a later mix down.

What we really need is a live linux distro that you could boot up on your system that would then analyze your specific hardware and compile a kernel specifically for it and your intended use. I’ve been away from the game for awhile now but the last I looked no one had tried this with much success. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist though 😉 I’ll see what I can find. Bear with me, my time on a computer is quite limited these days. You might also take a look at some of my older articles (if you haven’t already) on low latency audio as some of the information is sure to still be relative.

Meanwhile you can try a few semi-optimized distros. I like Ubuntu, and specifically I like the fact that it’s debian based. I used to be a redhat fan (and by extension, Mandrake), but the tools and resources for debian based systems are just so much more complete and straight forward, at least in my opinion. The following aren’t custom tailored for your specific hardware but have at least been optimized with low latency audio work in mind. Here is what I would try. I haven’t tested any of the current builds of any of them so your mileage may vary, but I think it’s a good place to start:

http://ubuntustudio.org/ Yes, there really is one. And it’s good too! Biggest catch is that it still ships with a generic (non-optimized) kernel but it appears a low latency one is in the works or perhaps already available with a little digging around.

http://puredyne.org/ This is a very tiny, live distro that can fit on a USB memory stick. I’ve used it in a pinch on many different systems.

Tango Studio This appears to be another Ubuntu that actually ships with a low latency kernel. I have *zero* personal experience with this one but I might give it a whirl myself soon.

http://www.musix.org.ar/en/index.html Musix is a very good distro to start with as well. It’s “live” (bootable from CD/DVD drive) and also ships with a “multimedia kernel” that you can use IF you install it on a hard drive.

Last but not least, YES, I think your inspiron or 301z can/could be used as a DAW as long as you don’t try to exceed it’s capabilities as a low latency environment, which it doesn’t sound like you will be doing anyway. “Easy” music notation is relative to each user but yes, there is good notation capabilities in linux, MIDI and audio recording as well (a given). Multiple tracks and looping might require different software to achieve both… there are lots of softwares that handle multiple tracks, but I don’t have experience with any *single application* that will let you easily loop one (or more) tracks while leaving the others intact. I highly recommend you check out Ardour, if you haven’t already, as it is probably at the forefront of DAW-like software under linux and is very actively being improved. Also become familiar with jack audio handling as well as QjackCtl, by far the most popular interface for jack.

I don’t know about garritan’s products, specifically, but VSTi support does exist in linux, as does handling for just about every audio file format under the sun.

I’ll try to throw some more time at this (and maybe polish up my own knowledge base at the same) in the relatively near future, so stay tuned.

And thanks for the post!

18. Damian Bamforth - August 9, 2011

Hi Octyabr – thanks so much for your reply.

You have given me a lot of stuff to investigate further – I will try to follow up on as much as I can.

I tried to use jack audio a year or so ago, with an app called rosegarden, and another I forget the name of, but I couldn’t figure out how to use it. I will look into it again. I am actually using my inspiron laptop running ubuntu to reply to this post (I decided not to buy the 301z, and rather investigate what I can do with what I have) so I will use synaptic package manager to get ardour and jack, and qjackctl now. I will look into the other ubuntu based distros later.

Thanks again for your reply

19. Jack Holland - April 10, 2012

i own my own studio and i use, FL studio, lmms, mixcraft, ardour, goldwave, audacity, Pro Tools.

there are some problems with LMMS (no audio recording) but i’ve used it a lot and i like it. it needs more polish but it works.

i run, windows and ubuntu, ubuntu studio. ubuntu alows to more audio control than windows and all my stuff works great with it.

20. David - May 30, 2012

fl studio sucks i dont know why all of you are riding it like if its the best ever LMMS is a great piece of software but is still not as good as others but of course LMMS is free. i rather use cubase, Reason, or live 8 LMMS DOES get the job done though and very well but it needs more work. to compete with the the big boys then maybe every one will switch to Linux 😀

21. dave - April 26, 2013

The windows port is inhibiting LMMS’ development. Wasted potential.

22. Noved - May 15, 2013

This program is absolutely terrible. Crashes with almost ANY VSTi I try to use, and if it doesn’t crash it only plays panned to the right or left….it’s completely ridiculous that this program receives so much praise with how awful it is.

oktyabr - May 15, 2013

Hmmm… Sorry to hear that. While it’s not compatible with all VSTi… ERRRR… more correctly, not all VSTi are compatible with LMMS, many properly programmed ones are. Regardless, I think LMMS gets praise for being the *only* free, cross platform program that has the capabilities that it does. If you are aware of a better alternative, for free (even if it’s just limited to one OS), please DO share with the rest of us?

23. DomiChi - September 13, 2014

You say:” In general a “DAW” should be able to take your creation from start to finish without the use of any other software.”
And if I want a realy good long concert piano?

oktyabr - September 13, 2014

Specifically I meant “production software”. Whether you wish to use “a good long concert piano” sample, VSTi, or a live recording from microphones doesn’t really matter, does it? 😉

DomiChi - September 15, 2014

Right, but if i use “a good long concert piano VSTi” I need the plugin of this VSTi. Then DAW must be compatible it is not more alone.

DomiChi - September 15, 2014

For exemple I want tu use http://sonimusicae.free.fr/matshelgesson-maestro.html and minimoge http://www.kvraudio.com/product/minimogueva-by-voltkitchen.
Normaly they are able to run as plugin or as standalone

oktyabr - September 15, 2014

Have you tried this plugin with LMMS yet? The only VSTi that I have had problems with, in LMMS, I also have problems with in other DAWs as well (Reaper, FLStudio, etc.).

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